Acquiring land for new parks

We acquire land to establish new parks and to add to existing parks and protected areas.

The NSW national parks system is made up of more than 870 parks, reserves, conservation areas and Aboriginal areas. All these protected areas are referred to as “parks”.

Each year, we acquire land to develop our park system to better include a wide variety of ecosystems, environments, plants and animals, and places important to people. We do this so that we can best represent and protect our natural and cultural heritage.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service manages more than 7 million hectares of land in the national parks system. The parks system is also referred to as the National Park Estate.

Acquiring land and reserving it

The first step in establishing a new park or adding land to an existing park, is to acquire the land. We usually purchase the land for new parks but sometimes it can be donated or transferred. Land can be recommended by the community or government.

All land proposed for inclusion in our national parks system must be fully assessed and evaluated for its conservation value. It can then be approved for purchase or acquisition by other means.

Acquiring land is not the same thing as reserving land.

The second step in establishing new parks is to formally reserve the land which has been acquired. When land is reserved it is officially declared as park land and becomes part of the national parks system (and Estate).

There can be some delay between the time land is acquired and when it is officially reserved and declared as park land.

Acquisition proposals

Proposals to acquire land can be triggered in various ways including:

  • a government initiative, commitment or policy
  • community interest or concern about the protection of a particular conservation value
  • an outcome of research or government assessment
  • an offer of land for sale
  • an offer of donation or bequest
  • development processes that require a biodiversity offset
  • compensation for revoking a park
  • an outcome of a whole-of-government land-use planning process.

Land with different types of ownership can be acquired and reserved, including freehold, leasehold and other Crown land such as state forest or Crown reserves.

The land acquisition process

The Office of Environment and Heritage acquires land for reservation under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, in a four-step process involving assessment, prioritisation, consultation and approval.

We consider a large number of land acquisition proposals each year and we use a practical assessment process to minimise the work and timeframes involved.

Assessment includes gathering information about a proposal's biodiversity and cultural heritage values, recreational opportunities, park management benefits and economic impacts.

An acquisition proposal may be declined if:

  • the land is not in a relatively natural state, unless it is of interest for its cultural heritage value
  • it does not align with current government directions, including the priorities outlined in the NSW National Parks System Directions Statement
  • it is deemed too expensive to acquire.

The extent to which an acquisition proposal is assessed will depend on its inherent factors and values, as well as the proposal's size and location.

Factors and values assessed include:

  • landscape context - whether the land is part of a larger intact natural area or corridor
  • comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness (CAR) - how well the land's biodiversity values are currently represented in the reserve system
  • native vegetation - the condition of vegetation, rarity and diversity of species and ecosystems
  • animals and plants - threatened species, rare or significant habitat such as breeding sites
  • Aboriginal and historic cultural heritage values
  • water - whether the area is important to maintain catchment water quality
  • features of geological and geomorphological importance such as caves, canyons or unique landforms
  • recreational value
  • park management costs and benefits
  • community benefits and socio-economic impact - social and economic changes to the local area that arise from land being acquired. Learn more about assessing community benefit.

A proposal that would create a new park would require a comprehensive assessment. However, a proposal to add land to an existing park would not require such detailed consideration because the relevant information about it already exists. A comprehensive assessment requires desktop study, expert opinion, and site inspection.

A decision to discontinue or defer a comprehensive assessment can occur at any point in the assessment process if:

  • insufficient information is available to adequately assess the values of the acquisition proposal
  • conservation values are not sufficient
  • obstacles are identified that compromise our ability to reserve the land, such as active mining interests
  • long-term management of the land is not sustainable
  • the likely costs (acquisition and/or management) appear to outweigh the likely benefits.

The lands available for acquisition in any given year are prioritised because their combined potential cost may exceed the available acquisition budget. Things we consider when prioritising land include:

  • the land's values
  • vulnerability to loss or irreparable damage of those values
  • whether the land supports values that are rare
  • value for money
  • socio-economic impacts of reserving the land
  • alignment with government interests in protecting the land.

Although we aim to consider these principles objectively wherever possible, we also use informed judgement.

This approach enables us to compare diverse acquisition proposals, which often include unquantifiable values, within the necessary timeframes.

Consultation with government

Reserves in the national parks system are permanently protected. Removal of resources, such as through logging or mining, is not allowed in most reserves.

To ensure that conservation is the most appropriate use for a given parcel of land, we discuss acquisition proposals with other government land-use agencies. This is called the reserve referral process.

Some Crown lands can only be reserved with the agreement of other ministers (or the agreement of agencies acting on behalf of that minister). The Minister for the Environment can act independently for all other land, but most acquisition proposals are referred to other agencies to identify competing interests and reach consensus before proceeding with reservation.

The reserve referral process usually occurs before land is acquired, but sometimes this is not possible. In these cases, the Minister for the Environment has ownership of the property, under Part 11 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, until the reserve referral process is completed.

Acquisition proposals that do not require referral:

  • inholdings within an existing reserve that is not a state conservation area
  • outcomes from government public land decisions (e.g. regional forest assessments)
  • proposals endorsed through a government cabinet decision-making process
  • proposals that have agreement between ministers (noting consultations with other agencies not subject to the agreement may still be required).

Consultation with the NSW Minerals Council

The NSW Minerals Council is the leading industry association representing the state’s minerals industry.

Under the protocols set up for the reserve referral process, the NSW Minerals Council is provided with the opportunity to comment on proposals which would create a new (or stand-alone) park or reserve. This consultation occurs in the period after land has been acquired and before reservation.

Consultation with other non-government stakeholders varies on a case-by-case basis. For example, consultation might occur with the proponents of proposed public land transfers to the national parks system.

The Minister for the Environment approves the acquisition of land. The Minister has powers to obtain land for reservation by agreement or by compulsory acquisition. Compulsory acquisition occurs rarely and only with a landholder’s consent.

All recommendations for land acquisition are referred to the Minister to decide whether to proceed.